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Deal Me In: Whoever said you had to have fun?

30 March 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Assume a gambler had the discipline to walk into a casino, sit down at the blackjack table, and make one $100 bet, win or lose, then walk away. Of course, the gambler would have enough money to cover any splits or double downs. Would that not be better than sitting there making $10 bets for several hours. Over 3 hours, I might wager $1000 doing it that way, compared to $100 the one-time bet way. If the casino has an edge of .05% over perfect play, then their edge is minimized by the smaller amount of money wagered. A caveat to that might be that if I win the one-time bet of $100, then bet $50 the next bet and bet $50 until I lose, thus guaranteeing I walk out a winner if I won the first bet and allowing me to ride a hot streak right out of the gate. This is purely from a money management strategy and not an enjoyment of gambling question. Rob C.

I am all for getting winning chips off the felt and out of play as quickly as possible, Rob, but since your hypothetical question excludes the entertainment value of gambling, you still have to figure in driving to and from at $4 a gallon. A 44-mile round trip in a Chevy Impala is going to cost you 4 percent off the top. Besides, who in their right mind is going to drive to, park, tip valet, plop down a Benjamin, and walk?

A one-shot, Ben Franklin wager might mathematically be the correct move, but that’s because you are not allowing the grind down to take hold. This is where the casino eventually wins far more than 0.05 percent of the player’s money, due to the combination of the built-in advantage it has at blackjack, and the players’ self-defeating tendency to churn the initial bankroll.

The casino knows that the typical player does not play $100 just once, but keeps on playing those chips like Pavlov’s dog, over and over again. For example, let’s say you are the run-of-the-mill player and buy in for $100 worth of chips. With the expected loss of, "in theory," 5 percent ($5) over the course of your first hour, your original bankroll is reduced to $95. Then you start playing that $95, so after another hour goes by you are sitting with $90 and change. Play the $90, and you will have just $85.

You, of course, are playing perfect basic strategy, so the usual 5 percent is only 0.05 percent, and yet the grind is still at work. Mix in a lack of discipline, or better yet, free drinks, and that 0.05 percent can easily become 1-5 percent. Still, with a one-bet exposure to loss, you’re busted. Whereas, grinding it out, you could win, decide not to blow it all, accumulate comps, succumb after an extended period of time and call it entertainment, or lose in mere minutes when playing $10 a pop. That’s why they call it gambling, hopefully, with money you can afford to lose.

Your winning progression idea, setting aside your original bankroll ($100) plus half your winnings, then betting the remainder while bankrolling additional winnings, has some rootin’-tootin’ merit, but do you really have the discipline to stick to it?

Personally, if I were limited to making just one $100 play, I would park my rear end in a cushy chair and place a point-spread wager on a sporting event. Scrounge up some loose change from under the driver’s seat for some $1 hot dogs and drafts, and life, as they say, doesn’t get any better. Unfortunately, Rob, this only works where legalized sports betting is allowed.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "A poker game can go on for 12 hours. When you’re on a winning streak, the feeling is better than any other feeling I know." ?- Colin Hayes, Evening Standard Magazine, July 15, 1994, "?Thoughts of would-be professional poker player".
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.